Travel

Fall brings unexpected in Glacier National Park

Autumn is one of the best times to visit Glacier Natural Park. Crowds are down, and you get access to some of the most beautiful fall foliage around and very much worth the drive east from the Inland Northwest. (Donnie Sexton  / Montana Office of Tourism)
Autumn is one of the best times to visit Glacier Natural Park. Crowds are down, and you get access to some of the most beautiful fall foliage around and very much worth the drive east from the Inland Northwest. (Donnie Sexton / Montana Office of Tourism)

It’s September. Which means that one of Montana’s undiscovered seasons is in full swing, welcoming travelers looking for a quieter experience in Glacier National Park. Plus, the season typically gives visitors more elbow room among the park’s more than 1 million acres.

Arguably one of the most scenic drives in North America, the Going-to-the-Sun Road weaves its way into the heart of the park and is one of the “must sees” when visiting Glacier. Weather permitting, the road will be open all the way across from West Glacier to St. Mary through Sunday, Sept. 19.

Insider Tip: Leave the driving to someone else. Hop aboard a red bus with Glacier Park, Inc. and try the ‘Huckleberry Mountain Tour.’ Departing from the west side of the park, it’s available Sept. 20–25 and takes visitors into the Lake McDonald Valley and the North Fork Region of Glacier National Park. Sun Tours also provides tours of the park from the perspective of the Blackfeet nation. www.glacierparkinc.com, www.glaciersuntours.com

For a blood-pumping activity, take a guided hike with Glacier Guides.

“The fall is a rewarding time to visit Glacier with the season’s changing colors, abundant wildlife and definitive lack of crowds,” said Cris Coughlin, co-owner of Glacier Guides/Montana Raft Company. www.glacierguides.com

While fall may not seem like an obvious time to float the waters in and around the park, the season offers an ideal time for scenic floats on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

“The river in September turns a gorgeous deep color of aqua teal for a tremendous scenic float,” said Coughlin.

Scenic floats are growing in popularity during autumn, with quiet days providing an ideal setting to float along the border of Glacier National Park. Plus, the float is accented by the water color, blue sky and the turning yellow on tamarack trees and vibrant reds of the underbrush.

“In addition to fall foliage, our scenic floats offer a relaxing glimpse at our wild surroundings,” said Sally Thompson, co-owner of Glacier Raft Company. “Plus, you can often see eagles and osprey soaring overhead, while the water below is so clear you can see the bottom and an occasional fish as they swim by.” www.glacierraftco.com

Additional water-based activities can be found by taking a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Company. Boat tours are available at Many Glacier and Lake McDonald through Sept. 19. www.glacierparkboats.com

For a stellar leaf peeping drive, take Highway 2 along the southern border of the park and follow the Middle Fork of the Flathead River as you take in the surrounding vibrant colors. Be sure to keep your eyes open for some of the park’s wildlife, including bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and bald eagles. At night, lay your head at one of the original lodges used by park visitors—Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier. The lodge is open through Sept. 26.

Insider Tips: Experience a distinctive Glacier experience by attending “Fall for Glacier.”Billed as an exclusive Centennial weekend and an official Centennial event, it takes place at Many Glacier Hotel Sept. 16–19. The getaway includes a 3-night stay, all meals, excursion in Glacier National Park, a sunset cruise, plein air paint out and Cowboy Ball. www.fallforglacier.org

To experience the park in the same way the first visitors did, take a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters. Trail rides depart from Lake McDonald through Sept. 25, while rides are available at Many Glacier through Sept. 20. www.swanmountainoutfitters.com/glacier

When traveling to Western Montana, consider hopping aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder. The Empire Builder departs Spokane at 12:13 a.m. and drops visitors in West Glacier, Essex and East Glacier the next morning, giving a jump start to your first day in the park. Trains depart East Glacier, Essex and West Glacier in the evening for the return trip to Spokane. www.amtrak.com



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